this past saturday was the teachers for social justice conference.

rewind a little for me to tell you that, um, i quit my job. you know, the one i’d been glowing about not too long ago. i still love the agency, but in terms of skills and interests, the position wound up not being a good match for me. i spent some time feeling elated and free after quitting and then there was a deep crash in motivation and self-confidence. i found a job rather quickly, and i’ll probably be starting that on friday, but the climb out of mild depression is not as swift as i would like. i’m fine, but it’s weird going from Having a Purpose to Um… What Should I Be Doing With Myself?

but the teachers for social justice conference was a help in that.

funnily enough, both of the workshops that i went to had something to do with transformation in the title. it absolutely wasn’t intentional, but you know, that’s always been one of my interests. the first was on transformative life skills. the job i’m starting soon is as a paraprofessional (which means a classroom assistant, usually with special education students), and the workshop seemed like it might give me some good tools to use with students one on one, especially those with attention issues and stuff. it was all about breathing and centering and stuff like that, so it kind of was about being a quaker. it was interesting how the workshop was both about helping kids find ways to calm down and about helping us educators be calm. (they did a great impression of educators frantically trying to get kids to calm down. “settle down! SETTLE DOWN!!!”)

the other workshop was “Message to Transformative Teachers: The Process and Potential of a Culturally Empowering Pedagogy.” i picked it out of a ton of inspiring looking workshops, and honestly, the number of wonderful buzzwords in a lot of the descriptions became sort of a blur to me, and i couldn’t tell if i was going to this workshop because i understood what it was about or because i didn’t. but it was pretty amazing. i took tons of notes and part of me is tempted to put them all up here. but the gist of the whole thing was how we need to really understand where youth are coming from and not blame them for being who they are. it was particularly for working with high school aged youth of color. i don’t work with high school aged youth, but the workshop still felt applicable. the presenter, patrick camangian, was hugely inspiring and great to listen to.

the thing that’s stuck with me most is just the offhand comment that he made about how “thuglife” is actually an acronym. i had no idea. i guess it comes from tupac, and it stands for “the hate you give little infants fucks everybody.” it’s pretty amazing. it’s been going over and over in my head a lot since then, informing my thoughts on the systems and institutions in this society.

yesterday, i had to get a tb test, and i went to the public health clinic that i usually go to. i tend to go to the transgender night, but this is the second time i’ve had to do a walk-in during regular hours. i arrived 1 hour after they opened, the number that was showing on the board was 66, i pulled number 79. i sat for 2 hours and watched as the number crawled up to 69.

this place is ugly, doesn’t seem totally clean, and the bathrooms smell really bad. the people who work there are tired and grouchy. the people who go to the clinic are primarily people of color, and since it’s a public health clinic, they are all pretty darn poor.

after two hours i stepped outside and called around to other clinics that had been referred to me for this process. i finally became convinced that the “adult and travel immunization clinic” would actually work for my work tb test, and wow, it was actually the same building. the front door this time instead of the sketchy back alley entrance. it’s clean, there’s carpet, there’s music playing, the receptionist smiled at me, and i got seen in half an hour. the people around me were mostly white, and seemed mostly middle class.

in the first clinic, a man came in and not finding a place to sit, sat on the trash can.

today i was talking to a friend and she said, “do you think infants get hated often?” and i said, “maybe not directly, but institutions are constantly telling them and their families that they are garbage.”

after i got my tb test yesterday, i took the bus home. a man and woman got on the bus carrying full trashbags. i think they were full of cans. i was reading, but soon i noticed that an african-american woman was yelling at them. something about how they had insulted the way that she smelled, but it’s them that smelled. the woman with the bag and the african-american woman threatened each other. the woman with the bags got up and started yelling, “i’m not afraid. i’m not afraid.” she seemed chicana or native american. i got off a stop early because it was crowded and i was freaked out. as i was walking home, i saw basically everybody get off at the next stop, and the man punching the window of the back door of the bus, yelling “you better get off that bus right now” the glass was broken, and spit came flying out.

the hate you give little infants fucks everybody.

me saying that has elements of appropriation, and it’s definitely been used with more violent rage than i’m comfortable with, but it’s true and it’s big.

what am i going to do about it, i’m not sure yet. i really want to, though.

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home is where when you have to go there, they have to take you in.

there has been a lot of talk among queers about the chosen family. as a group of people who have in many cases been tossed out of their birth homes, there has been a great need for new families, who will accept and love no matter what. sadly, the tossing has been done by many faith communities, and so a queer person’s chosen family is rarely a religious one. at least as far as i’ve seen.

yesterday, my mom came and visited our home. i was going to meet her at her hotel at a certain time, but the dishes took longer than i thought and the pie took longer than i thought, so, after a number of reschedulings, i met her an hour and a half later than i’d thought. the plan had been that we’d hang out there for awhile and then come back and puck would make lasagna and we’d eat it and pie and i’d make it to the quaker study group in time for the discussion, though not for the meal. and i’ve been really into the pie that i’ve been making (lime, with lavender whipped cream), and i’ve wanted to share it with them, and bring something homemade and yummy and delightful to this group of people who i think are great.

but we got to my house and things took longer for puck than they’d thought, and i was getting really sad and stressed out, because i’d made this pie for my friends and i wanted them to be able to have it, and and and and and.

so, i decided that the way to deal with that was to take the fifteen minute walk down to the meetinghouse while the lasagna was still cooking, bring them the pie, and come back. this would calm me down, and they’d get the pie, and both would be good things. so i ran down there, and as i neared, i realized how… weird this was. how maybe they’d be weirded out by the floral whipped cream. how maybe i should just give the pie to a group of homeless people and then they would all eat pie rather than self-destruct for one night. how we don’t usually eat in the middle of the study group. how i hadn’t even sliced it and and and and.

i got there and rang the bell, and charles let me in and i tried to just give him the pie with a brief explanation, but he said i should do it, so i came in and everyone seemed so excited to see me, and extra excited about the pie, and i rambled and rambled about how i felt crazy and how it was lavender whipped cream and and and and and.

then i got invited to sit in silence. and i sat down among this group of friends and i felt so calm. i felt a presence that was maybe just their love and was maybe more and maybe their love and more are still the same thing… and it was very sweet.

and then it ended and i rambled some more and still felt sort of crazy, but still felt very loved. still felt very welcome. still felt very at home.

thank you.

at meeting for business this month, we were encouraged to think about some queries about what we need to change. i don’t remember all the details. i should have posted then. but anyway, it was a worship sharing i guess, and people spoke about a variety of things, and at some point i said something. i spoke as an outsider coming in and how there is always so much work every group needs to go through and that’s good and self-critique is good, but so far, the truth for me has been that no matter what, i know i will find love at the meeting.

that is true. there is so much love for me in that group of people, it’s amazing. i know that there are people who will hug me or give any type of help they can if i ask for it. and i’ve been asking for it. i’ve got a place to stay when i need to be by myself for awhile, i’ve got a friend with a truck who will help us acquire storage furniture, i’ve got listening ears. and i feel called to give it back in ways that i can, and also, i feel like i am able to give back. that whatever i can do is enough. it’s amazing.

but, even before i said it, i thought a lot about people who are not me, and their ability to find love there. i thought about the guy who came in and caused a fuss when i greeted, and about the person who had spoken not long before and had been cut off by the clerk, and about the way that we are in the tenderloin and all of the people in the neighborhood who we would not welcome with open arms. i am struggling with that so much. do we open them with closed arms, folded over our chests, “come in but don’t get to close, and you are welcome to leave whenever you’d like… please”? that’s what it feels like. i am told that everyone is treated with respect, and i see a lot of trying to treat people with respect, but i also see myself in the place of those people– me with less social skills, a few more obvious crazies– being treated the way these people get treated, and i think it would hurt.

and so, when the person who had been told to be quiet spoke in hurt and anger, i felt it. i felt the hurt and anger, and i felt the guilt for all the ways i am distant.

and yet… there is a history of the meeting that i know little about. and there is a history of me that is about me putting so many people ahead of myself that i get tired and angry and defensive and broken. these walls protect us somewhat. this is our sanctuary. but. but. but. we are talking about how to get more people through our doors, and i’m for that, but i’m still not totally comfortable with how we treat those who are aleady coming in.

well, after spending some time in florida and san diego, in a heat & stomach-bug induced stupor of much tv-watching and video-game-playing, i came back home without puck, who was still in san diego with their family. puck had the computer, but one day, in the middle of stressful errands, i went to the library and used the computer to write an entry questioning panic & its place in a spiritual life, and typed up two more entries from my paper journal. i clicked “publish,” a message came up to say it had posted, but when i went to look at it, there was no new entry. and although i had copied it to the computer’s clipboard, the paste function didn’t work, so… i got sort of cranky. but now i am posting from the comfort of my own bed, puck sleeping next to me, butter cleaning himself in front of me, and secret scowling at her reflection behind me. i know i will be able to copy and paste, and so i’m going to try posting again. but about different things.

this sunday, i was the welcomer. there was a request for welcomers for christmas eve and new year’s eve, and i decided that i should ask to do new year’s eve, since i’d never done it before, and i’ve wanted to get involved in a helpful way with the meeting. i had a promise of a tour and orientation, but when it finally happened, i was somewhat dismayed to find out that it was just about the nuts & bolts of door unlocking and things, and nothing about what to say, how to say it, when to say it, or what to do if something went wrong. i asked about it, but the answer didn’t come in way that i really understood, but there was so much reassurance that nothing would go wrong, that i decided to trust that.

everything went well and the building manager wound up doing most of the things for me that i had been trained to do anyway. i welcomed people, and it was neat to see all the people coming in and to see a little bit about what goes on before meeting, rather than running in at 10:58 (usually i tutor a girl at 9:30 and come straight from that, but with the holidays, i didn’t.). my worry about feeling separate from the meeting for worship came true, and that’s the main reason that it’s not something i want to do a whole lot of at this time.

but the other reason was that at 10:35, someone came up and started opening the door with his suitcase. then the door shut with him and all his things on the other side. he tried to open it again, and so i went to help him and ask him some stuff. first i asked if he was there for meeting for worship, and he said, “yeah. are you?” this threw me off guard, of course, and i felt humbled in my classist assumptions.

a note: i live in the tenderloin which is “the bad part” of san francisco. i pass houseless people regularly. the meetinghouse is in my neighborhood, and i’ve learned that the rule is that people can sleep in front of the meetinghouse any time except for sunday mornings. at 9, they work to rouse them and send them away, and there was a challenge that sunday morning with a person who would not leave. this person looked decidedly different, but he definitely seemed like he lived on the street.

so, i let him in, and gave him a suggestion of where he could put his suitcase. he told me he’d been to meetings in alaska, and started walking to the door. i walked with him, but a few feet away i saw that robin was giving ministry. so i started to say that we should wait while she spoke, and i put my hand on the door. but i didn’t finish what i was saying, when he pulled the door open, being much stronger than me. part of me wanted to stop him still at that point, but i knew the choice then was to just let him go.

i stood around, watching him settle in, and took lots of deep breaths, and tried to connect to god about the whole thing, but then someone came out to talk to me. he said he’d felt called to come out and talk to me. he told me about how we don’t let people in when someone is giving ministry, but i explained that the door had been forced out of my hand. then he asked if maybe he shouldn’t have been let in at all, but i didn’t agree with that. it was good to have someone to talk to at that time, even though i mostly just felt embarassed, and we got hushed by someone through the window.

i felt sort of crushed by the whole thing. had i done the right thing? was there a right thing? and most importantly: would people think i was incompetent? i talked to a few people after meeting. 2 more people reminded me that i wasn’t supposed to let him in while someone was speaking, and i was able to explain, but… i don’t like that i was so quickly all about taking the blame off myself. i’m not sure if blame was even involved, but… just… i needed to tell people, “that thing that happened was not my fault.”

i spoke to robin who was fine with it and said that she was sure i’d done everything i could. a few other people said reassuring things. but in the end, there was just this feeling of commiseration about those wacky wacky street people and our problems with them.

it seems like this is opening some dialogue about the tools to give welcomers, but i… don’t think it’s just new welcomers that need tools. i don’t think we just need a direct answer for what to do if something like that happens… because… what is “something like that?” why do we need to guard our sanctuary? i’m not saying we don’t. but if we do, why do we?

the next day, yesterday, new year’s day, there was meeting for worship followed by a meal. i went, and as i was walking, i was thinking about this book we sell at the bookstore i work at. it’s called the god delusion. it’s new, it’s popular, it sits in front of the register. the book jacket talks about how it proves that religion is destructive and science is the answer. the reviews say things like, “this is the answer to the religious right, who will surely label the author the anti-christ.” i paged through it, and all i see is rage. i disagree with his premise. i think that religion can be destructive, but so can science.

but that’s not why i feel pangs of guilt and sorrow about selling that book. i don’t have control over its sale really, but it hurts to look at the book. it hurts because of the amount of rage. it hurts because i believe that rage is the problem. the “i am right, thus you are wrong” of it– it’s been done. it has done more damage than religion and science combined, because it’s where their problems come from too.

so, i found myself sitting with that at meeting. and i tried to look at the rage and understand it. and in a lot of ways i do. corruption, war, hypocrisy… these are upsetting things. the world is very damaged. it makes me angry, too. but not in the same way. not in the way that i want to write a book pointing fingers at anybody. but… i realized that he, like me when i get a good idea, probably thinks of his ideas as this huge, tremendous gift to the world. he can help it, he can save it, he wants to share his gift.

and then it came to me that our truths or our bits of the truth, however you want to look at it, are gifts. the question is how to give them as gifts and how to receive them as gifts.

when that came to me, i knew i had to speak. i felt dizzy, though, and pretty convinced that if i stood up i’d fall right over. but i didn’t and i said it and it felt big and real and scary. and then i was tired. and excited. but tired. after meeting, i decided that we really need some cots for laying down after something like that. i was pretty silent through the meal and dazed, and someone joked that i must have had a late night the night before. which was sort of true, but i’d gotten enough sleep to be fine during that meal (though i did fall asleep at the castro last night despite the fact that audrey hepburn was on the big screen right in front of me). it just… had been a big experience.

and it’s crazy because… i don’t know the answer to that question. AND i’m not even totally sure what it all means. but it seems important. we don’t want to share our beliefs like they are vases that would really look better where our friend’s favorite vase is. that’s not about the vase or our friend. it’s about us.

yesterday morning, before meeting, i was reading the letters in a friends journal from april ‘95 (someone donated a bunch to the meeting house library, and the librarian recommended i take some). john woodbury had something to say that resonated with me a lot. it’s related to what i said in ministry, and with my concern about christianity and how it can be right and complete and also not the only thing…

“We are all victims of language. Every word in our language is a symbol. We can’t talk about our inner life or our spiritual life in any other language but symbols, metaphors, allegories, and abstractions. In a way, a credo or creed, or statement of beliefs, has really nothing to do with where we are, because where we are is a matter of experience, not of the words we use to describe it.

Each of us has a very personal spiritual life, and we can only describe it in the words and vocabulary that we borrow. The richest and most common place that we get this vocabulary is the religous tradtion of our cultur, and most of us were born and raised and lived all our lives in a culture where the Christian mythology is the vocabulary or the language with which spiritual things are described. We borrow this vocabulary fo this source but also from other sources. We borrow it from our reasoning, we borrow it from the words and the literature of other people who think– and all kinds of sources.

I do not understand this fuss or why there is a fuss between Christocentric Quakers and Universalist Quakers because I have trouble with the Quaker use of the word Truth, with a capital T, as though any person can really know the spiritual Truth over and above everybody else.

If there is such a thing as absolute Truth, our perception of it is so imperfect that we have no right to be intolerant of anybody else’s perception of the Truth.”

… golly, i need to go to work.

from 11-11-06 in my paper journal (which i finished today. i’ve been writing in it since june 7, 2005):

“the last two day were exhausting becaue i’ve been working really hard on me & feeling like i’ve got some good tools to make my life so much better, but they take so much work &… that’s exhausting. i also think my theory of the flu shot was correct & added to the exhaustion.

i keep trying to find non-Christian Quaker texts. i want to know about that faith. i know about the redeeming power of Christ. i’m not ready to hunker down into it until i’ve seen my other options. jesus is not the only truth & i’m not certain he is my truth. he is a truth. he is a way & a truth & a light to The Truth, but i do not believe he is solely it. i believe that that belief– that there is only Christ– shrinks our souls, diminishes our connections with thos who have never heard of Christ, those who cannot accept him, thoe whose truths are just as beautiful, just as True. i think it splinters and breaks us to cling to that.

i, who clutch so much, ‘preaching’ against holding onto your god.

i just read an essay about letting go of ourselfs to get God, to be filled by God. i can’t do that yet. i am still learning to like myself. & i do. i love myself.

so frequently, religious leaders talk about how our culture teaches us to value ourselves too much. i don’t think that’s true. i think our culture teaches us to devalue our selves. we are never enough for it. i’d like to believe that we can meet God with our broken complete selves.

and i’m not sure how much we can give to God if we aren’t there.

i think this is because i’ve been contemplating vocal ministry so much. and how each person i’ve heard brings their gifts. and how each person brings their gifts to the world. and i think that’s the most beautiful thing in the world to me.

and if that’s not God, i think i might think it’s more beautiful than god.

by my definitions, i am pantheistic. God is so much everything. that is why ‘Now I walk in beauty, beauty is before me, beauty is behind me, above & below me’ & ‘all will be well & all will be well & all manner of thing will be well’ are so important to me. they remind me that no matter what is happening, no matter where i am, there is God & that is beautiful & that is well.

this is particularly helpful in the tenderloin.

every moment can’t help but be holy if you are surrounded by God. God is in this paper & this pen & this table & my bones & my cells & my soul. & everyone’s bones & cells & souls. & every awareness of that is worship. & it is easy & it is hard.”